By Denise Oliveira
Maurya Couvares was named one of “Seven Millennials Who Are Too Busy Changing the World to Take Selfies” by The Huffington Post last year. Founding ScriptEd – a non-profit that helps kids in under-resourced high schools learn to code – is her latest accomplishment.
“I think it’s such a powerful skill and something that everyone should know something about, because so much of our lives are dependent on people making software for us in this day and age,” said the 30-year old Ms. Couvares. “And to understand a little bit about how it’s made, and how you can create it yourself, is something that can make you a more effective leader. It’s a life skill that everyone should have.”
Ms. Couvares had worked with high school students in under-resourced schools in Philadelphia and New York City, as a teacher and a volunteer coordinator, and was struck that even though the kids were glued to their devices, they rarely expressed any interest in learning how to code or develop new technology, she said.
“It didn’t occur to them they could be the ones creating that,” she said. “In part, it’s probably because they didn’t have role models.”
Ms. Couvares was working at a large New York law firm, creating lots of spreadsheets, when a friend pointed out that if she herself knew some coding, her job would be a lot easier. She thought back to her high school students, reflected on her own predicament as a non-coder, and ScriptEd was born.
Full Access spoke with Ms. Couvares about the organization and her dreams for its future.
I pulled together a group of friends, we approached a school, and started a coding after-school club. That was in 2012.
What was the hardest part of getting the organization off the ground?
As soon as we started we got some media attention, and we were inundated with requests from professionals who wanted to volunteer with us, and schools who wanted us to come in and teach their students. The hardest thing for me was the balancing act of still having my full time job and trying to do this. Things were taking off really quickly. It eventually became clear to me that I needed to quit my job and fundraise myself a salary to work at ScriptEd.
How many schools are involved now?
We work with 13 schools in 4 boroughs. The first criteria for a school to participate is that at least 75% of the student body must qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school also needs to commit a liaison staff person to help coordinate our program, and the school has to assure us at least 20 or 25 students will want to sign up.
Who actually does the teaching?
It’s all volunteers. Right now we have 80 volunteers and a growing wait list.
How many students participate?
This school year it’s about 300, and we’re planning on 600 for the next school year. And this summer, we’re planning to place the 100 most promising students in paid internships in tech companies in the city.
How can New Yorkers help you?
You can apply to be a volunteer, and although there’s a wait list we can probably call on you for next year. And if you work at a tech company, we’re looking for partners who can provide coding internships this summer. And of course, we never turn down financial donations.
What’s your dream for ScriptEd?
That we’ll continue to train kids who will be able to get jobs in the tech industry and some day we’ll see it come full circle and they’ll come back and work with us.
And you, have you learned some coding?
I do it recreationally. Running the organization takes up pretty much all of my time. As we continue growing and I can hire more people I hope I can focus on that more.”